f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: (Insert Something Witty Here): Two More Crucifixion Scenes

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

(Insert Something Witty Here): Two More Crucifixion Scenes

High on the list of things I would never try as an author would be a first-person account of the life of Jesus. Think of how far we’ve come. You had early Jews who wouldn’t even speak the name of their God aloud and now you’ve got Norman Mailer who feels confident enough to try his hand at writing “an autobiography” from Jesus’ POV.

The Gospel According to the Son isn’t very good. I’ve read 66% of it (the first third, and the last third oddly enough) and it’s a woeful effort. Jesus, writing somehow from the throne of glory, comes off thin, pompous, and a bit whiny. His Father, who forsook him on the cross, still hasn’t come all the way around, and Jesus is less than thrilled with the churches and religions that have thrived to give him honor.

Mailer does get one thing right, however, in having his Jesus speak so much about the war in human hearts between God and Mammon. Jesus is essentially a social worker with a message of charity toward the poor and unkind words for those who would revel in their riches.

(Speaking of reveling in one’s riches. I’m going to take this moment to make a public declaration that I wouldn’t mind one bit if Mel Gibson decided mention where some of the money from The Passion might be going at the end of the day. I know we’re supposed to give without the other hand knowing, but in this case, a powerful statement could be made if he followed his screed with a generous heart.)

In the end, he suffers through the same Passion. Mailer actually skips the scourging and whipping somehow for a straight bolt to the cross and Golgotha. Here’s a sample of what happens:

“They drove a spike into each of my wrists and another spike through each of my feet. I did not cry out. But I saw the heavens divide. Within my skull, light glared at me until I knew the colors of the rainbow; my soul was luminous with pain.

They raised the cross from the ground, and it was as if I climbed higher and into greater pain. This pain traveled across a space as vast as the seas. I swooned.”
I don’t have much comment about this other than it doesn’t cut it. First-person was always going to be a difficult task and this scene was one of the ones Mailer would have had to nail. (No pun intended.) It’s like playing Hamlet. You need to do the “To be or not be…” speech credibly or the rest of your performance crumbles. Mailer, in my estimation, doesn’t even try real hard here. It’s coasting on the audacity of the premise rather than any quality of writing.

Christopher Moore’s Lamb meanwhile uses the crucifixion to build up suspense. His ending comes down to Biff and his faith in whether his friend is actually the Messiah or not. I’d actually rather not discuss the scene too much less I ruin it for those who may read the book, which I recommend, but I’ll choose one small passage. Biff has seen Jesus being prepared for his execution and knows he can’t be present for the actual driving of the nails. It’d drive him over the edge. That fateful scene plays like this: “I watched from the walls of the city as they led Joshua to the road that ran by the hill called Golgotha, a thousand yards outside the Gennath Gate. I turned away, but even from a thousand yards I could hear him screaming as they drove the nails.”

It hit me in reading the book. This Joshua is a man you come to care for in the course of 375 pages. There is a real passion in the anguish of his cries and the wrenching of his friends heart in hearing them. It also shows that one doesn’t have to actually bear witness to the piercing of skin and bone and tendon and tissue to be affected. It’s a lesson Mel may have at least wanted to contemplate.

The more important lesson, however, is that if allow your readers to invest themselves in a character even the slightest wounds hurt.